Mideast Migrant Spillover II: UK; Italy v France

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 4/18/2011 09:47:00 PM
On my walk home from work, I regularly pass by the statue of Bernard "Monty" Montgomery--a British war hero whose exploits in the desert sands made him famous. So, I just wanted to make a follow-up post on what I wrote on the "Pottery Barn" effect of European countries becoming involved (so there, I avoided using the word "intervention") in the Middle East / North Africa. We have two stories here. On a positive note, the land of Monty--Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein to be exact--appears to be returning to the desert in a big way. No, the UK isn't confronting Erwin Rommel's successor. Rather, it's supporting a ragtag army of rebels going up against the erstwhile Gadhafi regime. Given its involvement in the conflict, it's good the UK at least recognizes an obligation to evacuate the worst affected:
The UK is to help free 5,000 migrants trapped by fighting in western Libya, the UK's international development secretary has said. Andrew Mitchell said funds of £1.5m would pay to charter ships to get people out of the rebel-held town of Misrata and provide medical supplies. The minister is in New York attending a UN meeting to discuss the humanitarian situation in Libya.

Aid workers and Misrata residents have said the situation there is "dire". They have reported shortages of food, power, water and medicine, as forces loyal to Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi intensify their shelling of the city. The BBC's Barbara Plett, reporting from the United Nations, said some of the most desperate were thousands of migrant workers from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Mr Mitchell said Britain would help fund their evacuation in ships chartered by the International Organization for Migration. Further funds would go towards the International Medical Corps (IMC) to provide medical aid for those caught up in violence across western Libya, he added. The money comes from the department's humanitarian aid funds.
On a negative note, however, Italy's plan to let the migrant overflow from MENA go to neighbouring EU countries has not gone down well with the others to no one's real surprise. Given that France's desert involvement exceeds that of Italy, it's highly questionable why France tries to wall itself off from refugees coming from Italy. Let's first recount France's resurrection of borders in the post-EU age:
The migration wave unleashed by North African unrest has prompted France to resurrect its border with Italy—a barrier that was supposedly consigned to history's dustbin with Europe's unified economy.

A couple of miles from the beach town of Ventimiglia, nestled along the Italian Riviera, French police have restaffed a formerly abandoned checkpoint along the country's Mediterranean border with Italy. In the nearby French town of Menton, French police in riot gear board trains crossing into France, grilling passengers while other police forces are monitoring roads and foot trails that lead into French territory from Italy.

The operation is part of France's attempt to stop a wave of North African migrants who, having fled violence back home, regard Italy as a way station as they travel by boat, train and foot toward jobs and family in French cities. More than 700 migrants who have crossed into French territory via Italy have been detained by French police and escorted back, Italian officials said.
More recently, the Italians have lodged a diplomatic protest against the French over the matter. Towards a common EU migration policy? You must be joking:
A train carrying Tunisian immigrants from Italy was halted at the French border Sunday in an escalation of an international dispute over the fate of North African migrants fleeing political unrest for refuge in Europe. But France blamed what it said were hundreds of activists on the train planning a demonstration in France, and posing a problem to public order. Traffic was re-established by evening - but not before Italy lodged a formal protest.

“At no time was there a ... closing of the border between France and Italy,” French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henri Brandet said. It was an “isolated problem,” he said by telephone, “an undeclared demonstration. He estimated that up to 10 trains may have been affected, five on each side...

Italy has been giving temporary residence permits to many of the roughly 26,000 Tunisians who have gone to Italy to escape unrest in northern Africa in recent weeks. Many of the Tunisians have family ties or friends in France, the country’s former colonial ruler, and the Italian government says the permits should allow the Tunisians to go there under accords allowing visa-free travel among many European countries.
Dreams of a borderless Europe are fading as the French have come up with this excuse that activists were also on the train planning public disorder there. Let's see how long that excuse holds up as these inflows will certainly not come to a rapid halt:
France says it will honor the permits only if the migrants prove they can financially support themselves and it has instituted patrols on the Italian border - unprecedented since the introduction of the Schengen travel-free zone - bringing in about 80 riot police last week. Germany has said it would do the same. A spokesman for the Italian rail company, Maurizio Furia, told The Associated Press in Rome that the train carrying migrants and political activists who support them wasn’t allowed to pass into Menton, France, from the border station of Ventimiglia on Sunday.

Italy lodged a protest with the French government, calling the move “illegitimate and in clear violation of general European principles” the Italian Foreign Ministry said. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini ordered his envoy in Paris “to express the strong protest of the Italian government...”

“We have given the migrants travel documents, and we gave everything (else) that is needed, and the European Commission recognized that, it has said that Italy is following the Schengen rules,” Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said in an interview on Italy’s Sky TG24 TV. Visa-“free travel is legitimate for all those with the papers and who want to go to France,” said Maroni, a top official of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, a main coalition partner of Premier Silvio Berlusconi.
To which we now arrive at the main problem of Sarkozy himself. Despite backing all sorts of uprisings in MENA, he also adopts an anti-immigration rhetoric. Are freedom of speech and association incompatible with freedom of movement? That's what I would like to ask President Sarkozy as further blowback from mucking about in his backyard is imminent:
While he has robustly backed pro-democracy movements in the Arab world, triggered by the Tunisian uprising, conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy is also trying to cut back on the number of migrants arriving in France, whose former colonies in North Africa already provide the majority of immigrants.
With muscular rhetoric must come deeds that back them up. One avenue is to promote sufficient stability and development in MENA states that reduces pressures to immigrate. I am certainly unsure whether European efforts at nation building will succeed where those of the Americans failed. Remember that the Europeans have a longstanding colonial history there and are bound to invite suspicion. Moreover, remember who preceded the Americans in Vietnam--an eventual economic success story...after the white people finally gave up and let the "freedom-hating" Communists have a go. (Is there a lesson in here somewhere?)

Until then, Sarkozy's lip service for freedom of speech and association will sit ill at ease with the French government's hardline policies on freedom of movement.